Pablo Mac Donough maintains that polo is the toughest sport on a watch. The punishment that a watch has to take during a polo match is brutal. The speed of travel, the likelihood of getting directly hit by — the ball, mallet, ground, etcetera — the force and potential mass acting on the watch are all far greater than other sports.

Spend about five minutes with Pablo and he can point to a number of occasions when the Richard Mille RM 053 that he wears, saved his wrist, took a direct hit, or simply came between himself and some other “hard place”. But then that is exactly what Richard had in mind.  A watch for polo, to be worn be worn while playing.

Pablo Mac Donough in the heat of a polo game (Image © Pascal Renauldon)
Pablo Mac Donough in the heat of a polo game (Image © Pascal Renauldon)

In terms of design, there is always the question of why it looks the way it does. And there is a good reason for this. To learn about the pressures on a watch during a polo match, Richard handed over an RM 010 to Pablo and asked him to play with it over the 2012 season.

What came back was a mangled watch that looked as if it had been run over by a truck (several times). The crystal was cracked, the case was scratched and battered, and the time keeping was off. Richard needed to re-think the Richard Mille case and its design to cope with the new sport.

The RM 053 represented a departure from the norm for Richard Mille on a number of fronts. The watch still has the familiar Richard Mille tonneau case, but what sets it apart is the design of the watch face, the material used and that shroud over the movement.

Second, was the mounting and angle of the movement within the case that gave rise to its unusual time display: A lateral figure “8” with the seconds on the left and the hours and minutes on the right. The watch had its case designed with just one thing in mind: To withstand extreme trauma.

The RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)
The RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)

To increase the watch’s ability to withstand shocks to the movement, it was laterally mounted into the case on a cage angled at 30 degrees.  In other words — and this is partly reflected in the time display (or face) of the watch — the watch movement was re-configured and mounted sideways in the case.

The cage inside equally kept the movement away from shocks from impacts onto the case. The case for the RM 053 is made from titanium, while the canopy part of the watch is made from a highly specialised alloy: Titanium carbide.

Caseback of the RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough showing the angled movement within (Image © Revolution)
Caseback of the RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough showing the angled movement within (Image © Revolution)

What makes the watch stand out at the end of the day, is its unique titanium carbine cover. Because of the potential for extreme impacts on the face of the watch, Richard turned to this material, a type of cermet.

What is a cermet? A cermet is a composite, composed of ceramic (cer) and metal (met) elements. In this instance, a cermet is ideally designed to have the optimal properties of both a ceramic, such as high temperature resistance and hardness, and those of a metal, such as the ability to undergo plastic deformation. The metal is used as a binder for an oxide, boride, or carbide. Richard’s choice was titanium carbide.

As a cermet, titanium carbide has some extreme uses. First off, titanium is the kind of rare metal that gets used to form super alloys for things like radiation shielding on satellites or the re-entry plates for space craft! As titanium is brittle as a pure metal; and difficult to work with, it is combined with other materials to form super alloys. Titanium carbides are produced by heating titanium with carbon.

Titanium carbide is an extremely hard (Mohs 9-9.5) refractory ceramic material. The super alloy then retains all the properties of the metal, but with other properties that allow it to be pressed into different shaped forms. For the dial side cover of the RM 053 the titanium carbide was shaped to account for the curved dial display.

The titanium carbide canopy of the RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)
The titanium carbide canopy of the RM 053 Tourbillon - Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)

The RM 053 has been Pablo Mac Donough’s constant companion on the polo field for the past six years.  He credits the watch with not only keeping the time but equally saving his wrist and forearm at times as the horse has placed its full weight on him during a fall.

Even now he considers the watch something of a “good luck” charm and will miss it being on his wrist. If you ever get the chance to look at Pablo’s personal watch close-up, the RM 053 was one of Richard’s rarer watches. It was limited to just 15 pieces. It was, and still retains to this day, a certain visceral rawness to its design. That experimental form, where Richard was searching for a solution to the problem: Namely how to design and manufacture a watch capable of being worn by the world’s best polo player.

Pablo Mac Donough showing off his RM 053 when he first received it at SIHH 2012 (Image © Andrew Hildreth)
Pablo Mac Donough showing off his RM 053 when he first received it at SIHH 2012 (Image © Andrew Hildreth)
Pablo Mac Donough's battle worn RM 053 on his wrist at Chantilly in 2016 (Image © Andrew Hildreth)
Pablo Mac Donough's battle worn RM 053 on his wrist at Chantilly in 2016 (Image © Andrew Hildreth)

The problem remained the same with the RM 53-01 some six years after the original RM 053 watch. The difference now being that Richard has learned in the interim about new composite materials; how to suspend a movement within the case; and finally, how to protect the movement and dial side of the watch.

While the watch might look very different, the effect is the same: To have a watch where the movement is protected and positioned to absorb large shocks and allow the watch to continue to work.

For the watch case of the RM 53-01, Richard used Carbon TPT®. Having used this material in a number of watches, it is now established that Carbon TPT® has the strength without the mass. Richard has also perfected the suspension technology that was first used in the RM 27-01.

RM 53-01 Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)
RM 53-01 Pablo Mac Donough (Image © Revolution)

Movements have now been tested for shocks up to 5000G with the cable suspension; the same shocks subjected to the cage frame in the original RM 053. The last new technology in the RM 53-01 that must be mentioned, is the crystal used on the front of the watch.

Using the same technology that allows bank tellers to sit behind bullet proof glass, the front crystal of the new Pablo MacDonagh watch uses the same principle only reduced to (and yes, this is real) an atomic level.

The crystal of the RM 53-01 is made from two thin layers of crystal: The top is machined from the bottom of a raw crystal with the atomic structure in one direction, the bottom layer is machined from the top of a raw crystal with the atomic structure in the opposite direction.

These two exactly machined crystals are then adhered with a special film. The result is a crystal that can withstand a direct 5000G hit and yet no crystal shards detach and fall into the movement. The crystal stays intact, although cracked, and of course the watch keeps ticking on.

The movement of the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough
The movement of the RM 53-01 Tourbillon Pablo Mac Donough
Pablo Mac Donough wearing the RM 53-01 while in action (Image © Marcelo Endelli)
Pablo Mac Donough wearing the RM 53-01 while in action (Image © Marcelo Endelli)